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Primark Recycling Scheme Creates New Channel for Covid Castoffs

During shelter-in-place orders, decluttering became a pastime for consumers stuck at home. Research from the Waste and Resources Action Programme found that 41 percent of consumers discarded unwanted textiles during the lockdown.

Consumers are often confused about where to go with their used clothing. Many are apt to bring their donations to charity shops, but with the uptick in purging, thrift stores have become overwhelmed with the volume of items coming in.

Recognizing a need for an alternative, Irish fast-fashion retailer Primark is introducing a nationwide take-back program this week. The Primark In-Store Recycling Scheme will place receptacles in each of the chain’s 190 stores throughout the United Kingdom to collect used goods, regardless of brand.

“We take our responsibility as a leading international retailer seriously,” a Primark spokesperson told Sourcing Journal. “We know people don’t always find it easy to recycle their clothes, textiles and shoes, and we know people have had big clear-outs during lockdown. So now is the perfect time to be launching our in-store recycling program, making it easier for the millions of customers who visit Primark stores to recycle any brand of pre-loved items.”

Primark is working with recycling specialist Yellow Octopus on its scheme. The company boasts a “no landfill” policy, and says it diverts approximately 1 million garments from landfills each month. Yellow Octopus prioritizes sending fashion items to new owners when possible. Merchandise that cannot be worn again is reworked into insulation or filling for mattresses or stuffed animals.

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“We undertook a rigorous selection process to find a partner that could deliver a recycling scheme that would work for our business and for our customers,” the Primark spokesperson said. In addition to offering an appealing recycling model, Primark tapped Yellow Octopus because of its adherence to the principles outlined in the Primark Code of Conduct regarding workers’ rights, health and safety and wages, which is based on standards from the International Labour Organisation.

Any profits from Primark’s recycling program will go to UNICEF to support educational programs. In 2018, the retailer entered a three-year partnership with the nonprofit, pledging $6 million.

Fast fashion often gets a bad rap for its contribution to shortening the lifecycles of apparel merchandise. Combatting this, Primark and some of its peers are ramping up their sustainability commitments. For instance, H&M instituted a take-back program in 2013, which collected close to 32,000 tons of textiles in 2019.

This take-back scheme builds on Primark’s existing efforts to reduce waste as part of its Primark Cares sustainability initiative. Since 2010, the company has been donating its unsold goods and samples to charity, and it switched from plastic to paper shopping bags in 2002.

“While we strive to keep our prices as low as possible, we never compromise on the standards we expect,” said the Primark spokesperson. “We want all of our clothes to be a good fit, wash and wear well, and become loved items that are worn time and time again. More needs to be done across the industry to help consumers prolong the lifecycle of their clothes, but we believe that offering customers a recycling scheme to help them do good with their old clothes is an important step to helping us, and our customers, to reduce our impact on the planet.”